Sunday, November 29, 2015

Sermon: Be Ready to Give an Answer for the Hope you Have

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"It changed my life – or he changed my life. I was a teenager when I became a Christian at age 16. For me, this was absolutely revolutionary. It lifted me from a sense of meaninglessness and purposelessness to being passionate about living for Christ and making my life count for him and for his Kingdom. That has never left me, but has inspired my life. I do think we want to give our kids a vision of a high calling lived for Christ that is the greatest calling that you can have and so much more than this milquetoast moralistic therapeutic deism."  -William Lane Craig, Mutant Christianity


You must worship Christ as Lord of your life. And if someone asks about your hope as a believer, always be ready to explain it. But do this in a gentle and respectful way. Keep your conscience clear. Then if people speak against you, they will be ashamed when they see what a good life you live because you belong to Christ. Remember, it is better to suffer for doing good, if that is what God wants, than to suffer for doing wrong!

Christ suffered for our sins once for all time. He never sinned, but he died for sinners to bring you safely home to God. He suffered physical death, but he was raised to life in the Spirit 

1 Peter 3:15-18 NLT 
 
When Jesus Christ was born into the world he brought something very important with him: He brought hope. During this time of the year, we remind ourselves of the hope that Jesus Christ gave to us. It’s a candle burning. That’s a symbol. It’s a symbol that the word of God is true: The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can’t overcome it. This was our situation before Christ came into the world. And before he came into our lives. Each of us could share how Jesus has changed us.


We were in the darkness. Then a light exploded in the midst of the night sky, and hope came into the world. And he came to save us from this fallen place. This place called Earth.

He set me free. From the clutches of darkness. Very truly, and very literally. Jesus Christ was the light, shining in the darkness of my past life.

Our Christian faith is a beautiful thing. It explains the entire world around us, while many walk vacantly through life. Why are we here? What is the human race? What is our purpose? What is the meaning of life? Every question is answered by our Christian faith. Our faith is something called a worldview. It’s how we see the universe around us.

The most important thing about our faith is that it’s real, 100% of the time. It doesn’t change. It’s not one of many ways to see the world. It’s the truth about life. It doesn’t change. It’s solid, fixed and objective.

We rest all our trust, all our hope, all our future, everything we do in life, everything we labor for, the safety of our families, our time, our money, and the very underlying reasons for how and why we live on Jesus Christ the God-man who came. He came claiming to be the son of God, two thousand years ago, came into human history. He died on the cross, yet he’s alive today. He is Lord, savior, helper, comforter, and the great shower of mercy on once hopeless losers like me. He is seated in majesty, glorified and resurrected bearing the scars of his victory over death at the right hand of God.

We live that by faith. Is that hard to believe? I don’t think so.

To me it seems obvious that there is a God. I didn’t always think that way though. I was raised Catholic myself, but I never really connected to it. I didn’t think it had any relevance to my life. My mom was enraged when I told her I didn’t want to be confirmed. I told her I didn’t believe the things they were telling me.

I think that’s probably more common that we might realize. Maybe we treat our faith as more of a tradition. Or a place where we’re family. I’m not saying those are bad things necessarily, but our faith is not just those things. It goes much further. As Chuck Colson said, “Christianity is a way of seeing all of life, every aspect of reality. It is a worldview.”

The scripture said,”You must worship Christ as Lord of your life.” Not just as a part or a segment, or a certain aspect. Christ is at the center, to be worshiped, honored, and served in all things. He is our traveling companion through this wilderness they call Earth. His Holy Spirit is with us too. He changes us, encourages us, tests us, builds us, and puts us through trials.

The light has shined in the darkness. He is with us. We’re the lucky ones in this world, the blessed one. Yet there are so many others! It’s on my heart day and night. The burden for the lost. So you and I must be something, and it’s sacred. We must be prepared! Be ready. Are you prepared to give an explanation of the hope you have? And are you ready for his return?

What is our hope as believers in the way? Our hope is the forgiveness of sins, our reconnection to God, and eternal life in joy with our creator.

Explain that one to a ruffion on a bar stool. He has no idea what your talking about! It doesn’t make sense to him. Tell that to a girl in a club, she’d probably laugh in your face. Which is why we must be prepared. We must be ready, as Peter wrote, to give an answer for the hope we have. The greek word Peter uses for an answer is “apologia” which means to give a defense.

Think of Catherine Booth in the bar in Paris. An apt analogy given the recent terror attacks in Paris. What would she say? What would she do? 



The artwork of her standing in a bar in Paris (1871) preaching the gospel has always been an inspiration to me. I think to myself, there is a woman I would be honored to call my wife. She’s taking a stand, she’s disturbing the moment.

In giving an answer, we’re disturbing the moment. The world is well on it’s way, marching away from truth. It always has been. They’ve created entire systems to circumvent the Christian worldview, they’ve added evolution, secular self help psychology, naturalism, the view that all things came from the physical world. All these systems to escape the roots of our country, of western civilization itself: the Christian faith. Christianity is what holds our civilization together here in the United States, and in Europe.

William and Catherine Booth broadly transformed England “darkest England” to radical changes in the moral climate.

We’re called to do the same today. Catherine Booth said,” If we are to better the future, we must disturb the present.”

I’m encouraging all of us, myself included, to disturb the moment; Be ready to give an answer. Give that answer, share the truth, but as Peter wrote: Do so with gentleness and respect. It’s so very important to do so respectfully, and lovingly. More so than anything the example of how we live will help convince a non-believer to follow Christ. They will know us by our love. But if there isn’t love within our midst, then they will not know us.

Yet someone can see how we live and still not understand the gospel. They’ve never been confronted with it. They’ve never, ever been told. We should tell them. And when they ask: Why? Why should I believe in Jesus? Why should I trust the Bible? Why do we even need a God to explain the universe when we have science?

You can say: Let me tell you a few things. And hear me out. I believe in Jesus Christ because he changed my life. And that change is real. I’m sure it’s hard for you to understand. But today there are over 2.2 billion Christians in the world. Are they all wrong? Have you read the gospels? Have you asked God to reveal himself to you through the scriptures? Aren’t you touched by the beauty of the message of the gospel of love?

As far as the Bible, I do believe you can trust the Bible. I know there is much skepticism about the Bible today. But let me share with you these facts: First, the Bible is considered by the vast majority of historians as a reliable, factual, historical document. The events in the Bible are trusted and historically accurate. Even outside sources matched with the Bible history fit with the sequence of events perfectly. Archaeological discoveries time and again have proven to verify the scriptures.

The Bible was compiled in the form of ancient manuscripts. Did you know there are over 25,000 partial and complete manuscripts of the biblical documents? Did you know they all match one another with 99.7% accuracy? Do you realize how astounding that is? You can trust the Bible, despite the skepticism of today.

“Do you believe in the existence of Socrates? Alexander the Great? Julius Caesar? If historicity is established by written records in multiple copies that date originally from near contemporaneous sources, there is far more proof for Christ’s existence than for any of theirs.” –Dinesh D’Souza, What’s So Great About Christianity, p. 296.

Where did the universe come from? It can’t pop into existence from nothing, can it? Of course not, that would be foolish. The universe is not eternal either, Einstein proved that by viewing the red shift of planetary bodies via the Hubble telescope. It proved that the universe is expanding. This indicates that the universe began to exist at some point in the past. Scientists suggest a big bang, but they leave out the obvious question: Who banged it? Who caused it? A bang can’t bang from nothingness can it? Of course not. Something can’t come from nothing. Even a toddler knows that.

God created the universe. It’s the obvious conclusion. People don’t want to see that though. But it’s true. Look at the harmonious complexity of the universe. Look at the beauty of the universe.



Take a look. There it is. This is not something someone made on their computer, this isn’t digital art. This is a photograph, taken by the deep space imaging array known as the Hubble telescope. They pointed the Hubble into deep space and snapped photos, and this is what they saw.

Look at it for a moment. That’s the universe God made. He made it so it would be beautiful just by looking up at the stars and the moon. Yet thousands of years later, we look at the universe through a telescope and we find just the very same truth as the sky shares: The Heavens declare the glory of God. They pour forth speech. This majesty, this beauty speaks to us.

Did you know our planet is set at the perfect distance from the sun to allow for life? Did you know if the moon wasn’t there life couldn’t exist? If any of these distances were adjusted even slightly there would be no life on Earth.

We live in a moral universe, we know that. God exists and he asks us to live differently than the world around us. Our sins, our wrong doing had separated us from God. We’ve all lied, we’ve all stolen, we’ve all wanted things we couldn’t have, we’ve all been selfish when we should’ve thought of others, many of us have done much worse too. All of those things, those sins, over our lives are the separator between us and God. Which is why we need a savior, to remove our wrongs, and change us from within. That savior is Jesus Christ. He is the God-man, who came into human history to offer himself as a gift for the redemption of his people. The scriptures say the universe was made through him and his power, and that he holds the universe together.

“Discoveries of the last half of the 20th century have brought the scientific community to the realization that our universe and our planet in the universe are so remarkably unique that it is almost impossible to imagine how this could have happened accidentally, causing many agnostic scientists to concede that indeed some intelligent creative force may be required to account for it.” –Dr. Walter Bradley, Professor Emeritus of Mechanical Engineering at Texas A & M University

Most of us believe the Bible is true. We believe Jesus Christ is really our Lord and savior. But I’m sure there are a few reading who don’t really know if they can believe that. And I’m talking to you now: You can believe this. You can put a reasonable faith in Jesus Christ, based on the hard facts of life, and confidently follow him. I would encourage you to do so.

So we know Jesus. Our lord and savior, whose character and beauty of personality is unparalleled in human history. His influence goes from 2,000 years ago to today. A.D. and B.C. time itself centers around his life. Amazing.

Jesus came, he gave us a way to life. And he returned to God the Father. But Jesus is coming back. He is returning to set the world right. And we ought to live in patient reverence, carefully waiting for his return.

Matthew 24: 45-51 NLT says “A faithful, sensible servant is one to whom the master can give the responsibility of managing his other household servants and feeding them.  If the master returns and finds that the servant has done a good job, there will be a reward.  I tell you the truth, the master will put that servant in charge of all he owns.  But what if the servant is evil and thinks, ‘My master won’t be back for a while,’  and he begins beating the other servants, partying, and getting drunk?  The master will return unannounced and unexpected, and he will cut the servant to pieces and assign him a place with the hypocrites. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

Though we are saved, redeemed, reborn children of God by the life,death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.. it matters how we live. We want to make sure we are ready, standing firm, remaining in the hope we received from Christ. We have hope for eternal life. And we live in a world where hope is fading. We hold in our midst the answer to death itself. The fountain of youth is here, among us.

I see so many young people, young adults who desperately need Jesus. The sad thing is many don’t even care, they can’t understand it and they want to go their own ways. We can’t force it on them. But we can engage with them in the area of ideas. We can have reasonable discussions with people, as long as we’re polite and gentle. We can befriend the lost and confused.

This hope that we have in Christ is unlike anything the world has ever known. I wish young people could understand what I’ve found in Christ. He set me free. He gave me hope, when I had none. 


All of us must be ready to give an answer for the hope we have as believers, but remember to do so with gentleness and love. Stand firm in this hope day in and day out friends. Stand firm until Jesus returns, because he will. We can believe it, it’s true. We can see through the illusions of this physical existence to the spiritual truths behind everything that happens in this world. 

The Bible is a message from the real God who made the universe.  Jesus Christ is the God-man, and though he died he is alive today.  And he's coming back.  Be ready for his return, and be prepared to share the hope you have. Amen.

I shared this message originally on 11/29/2015 at the Salvation Army of Escanaba church service.  

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Related Posts:

  1. Reflections on the Salvation Army Regeneration Conference
  2. How to trigger a Great Awakening 
  3. You Oh Lord are my Strength: The Manifold Provision of the Architect of Reality
  4. What is the will of God? 
  5. Am I called to Ministry? How can I know? 
  6. The Stairway to Heaven 
  7. Depression & Meaninglessness: Where is God in the depths of despair?
  8. Ten Years in the Desert, Two Years in the Wilderness
  9. A Vital Spiritual Experience 
  10. Be a Man 

Thursday, November 26, 2015

25 Things I've Learned from the Ministry Internship in the Salvation Army

Stock Photo via Flickr by SA Western Territory Creative Commons 2.0 license
It's been about three months since I started a ministry discovery program internship in the Salvation Army Central Territory.  I was assigned to Upper Michigan, and have been serving for a while now.  Upon reflection, here are twenty five principles I've learned from the experience so far.  

Note: The views on this blog do not necessarily represent the Salvation Army or it's affiliates, these are the personal views of Justin Steckbauer.  This is his personal blog.
 

1. Self care is vital; but more so God-care. Take your anger to God, take your sadness to God, thank God for the joy, and cry when necessary.

2. Time management is very important. Expect to be busy, a lot.  When you feel like your going crazy, that's when you're growing.

3. It’s very wise to learn to deal with coworkers carefully and intentionally, a special pain can come from ongoing disagreements with coworkers.

4. The view that the community holds of your organization matters more than one might realize. It’s not a passive impact, but a direct impact that affects everything from budget to attendance.

5. God is the only reason any of this is possible.

6. Leadership is more about serving than leading, especially when your an intern.

7. It’s best to avoid getting angry when your coworkers treat you like a green intern. The ladies in the front office are not a force to be lightly reckoned with. After all, you are pretty green.

8. Kettle season will build character.

9. If you have a supportive corp council and advisory board, you’re truly blessed. We’re blessed here.

10. Volunteers are as valuable as gold, their dedication is like a permanent joy and a song in the air. 

11. A church is like a family, and church members can fill voids in the heart left by distance from loved ones.

12. A weekly bible study makes all the difference for edification, there is a real actual difference when spending time in the word. 

13. In a spirit filled church you can experience God in shockingly clear ways.

14. The reputation of your organization in relation to other churches in the area is very important.

15. When churches of various denominations work together, the community is safer and more united in the gospel. A “christian feel” tends to pervade the city.

16. Social media presence can definitely improve relations with the community.

17. Prayer is huge; prayer heals the sick, changes attitudes, brings healing to brokenness, and saves souls from death.

18. Home visits are simply incredible and their positive impact is far reaching.

19. Difficult days are not fun, they can feel worse than hell, but good days come too and the sense of divine providence is total.

20. Learning to better manage emotions will be an asset in personal and work life. Emotional maturity comes through struggles.

21. Conflict management means the difference between success and failure.

22. People are much more generous than we might realize.

23. Dedicated corps officers are made by God. It’s an honor to be taught by them.

24. There is great dignity in wearing the uniform of the Salvation Army. 

25. I have a lot to learn.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Hope for the Drunk, the Drug Addict, and the Deeply Depressed

Hippies sharing a joint via Wikimedia Commons
We all have a story. Our stories define us in many ways.  They describe who we are, where we've been, and where we're going.  Good times and bad times together make up the span of a human life.  

A human being opens his or her eyes and sees a new world.  And it's a world they don't fully understand.  Yet the joy of childhood, at least for some of us, was quite elating.  Many did not even have that.  Why?  Well, because crazy things happen in this life, don't they?  Just when we think we've constructed a semi-good little world around ourselves, something conspires to mess it up. 

Yet suffering seems to be the only thing that makes us wonder, and ask hard questions.  Suffering is the megaphone God uses to rouse a deaf world, as C.S. Lewis wrote.  Maybe that's true.  

We all have a story.  We all have a saga through life.  I'd like share a few pieces of mine with you today.  I've often discussed my spiritual saga, from rise to fall, through the darkness and twilight.  But I don't think I've taken this angle yet.    

It was 2008, and I was a student at the university of Wisconsin ext.  I was living in the dorms, and working on the college newspaper as one of the staff journalists.  I was the gonzo journalist of the crew, employing a blunt new journalism style of writing to what I was doing then.  All my coworkers were potheads of course.  I was clean and sober at this time in my life, but I smoked a lot of cigarettes.

We liked to write edgy editorials, and I recall we wrote a great deal on the election that year, tearing into Obama and McCain, and we ran a full page ad for Ron Paul.  I was kind of floating through life, do you know the feeling?  

I just kind of floated.  I had little thought of what I was doing.  I knew I liked having fun, smoking cigarettes, writing articles, writing stories, sleeping with cute girls, and thinking about politics, philosophy, and spirituality.  I was the typical idealistic college student.  

I'd gotten into some trouble, ended up in jail a few times, I'd gotten charges, and had to get into treatment.  That had finally settled down, and I was doing OK for a while.  I had a close friend named Kyle, and we would go for walks almost every night.  It was the oddest thing, but we loved it.  We would often be up until 5:00 AM or earlier, walking along wooded streets in the forests of Wisconsin.  Woods everywhere.  Almost every night.  

And then I met a girl named Gabbie.  Oh boy she was trouble.  She was one of those girls who said she likes to just be "one of the guys." I've never trusted a girl who has said that ever since.  I think it's synonymous with "I'd like to size up your guy friends for an upgrade."  Hard to say for certain.  In any case, the whole thing ended in disaster and her and Kyle got together.  I refused to let it go, after all, who would?  

About a month later I picked up my drug of choice, a substance called dextro-methor-phan.  It's the primary ingredient in cough medicine.  When injested in large amounts, given the proper brands, or through purification, it would trigger a powerful high.  The high would last from 4-6 hours.  DXM as we called it, was in the realm of a drug group called "dissociative hypnotics."  The drug would keep the user awake, jittery, yet also relaxed, and it would trigger mild hallucinations, mainly light effects.  The interesting thing about the dextromethorphan drug is that the area of the brain it targets is the same part of the brain that lights up during religious worship.  The enemy knew exactly where to target me with addiction.  He knew I was destined to be a minister.  Crazy, just crazy.

This began a curious descent in my life.  There were several strands in the situation that all folded together to form the descent.  First, there was the love affair with DXM.  Second, there were my dreams, of which I recorded in great detail.  I was prone to have premonitions of future events, and highly symbolic dreamscapes would unfold.  And I would use those dreamscapes as inspiration for my books.  Third, there were my writings at the time, during which I wrote thousands of pages.  Many of those works were published, in online journals, Yahoo! News, Yahoo! Voices, the university newspaper, magazines, and even an indie journal in the U.K.  I was messed up, but I was also a pretty good writer.  Fourth was my spiritual journey.  My spiritual journey took a very circuitous route. That happens when your looking based on preference, and intentionally evading a certain worldview that starts with a "C" and ends in "anity."

It's so hard to understand at this point in my life, but I'll share with you the situation: I was an artist in the area of self destruction.  I was slowly destroying myself, and taking pleasure in the process.  I was painting a tapestry of the entire affair with my writings, my dreams.  In the end I wasn't just addicted to DXM, or alcohol, I was addicted to the desperate fast lane, the strangely appealing lifestyle of the meandering vagabond.  I had become obsessed with the thought of joining the 27 club.  I believed I would die in 2012, in November, or December, right around there.  I had read that the world would end in 2012 somewhere.  

As 2008, 2009, and 2010 passed Kyle my old buddy and I were both addicted to the sauce, using it as often as we could.  Around that time I attempted suicide several times.  I went to many rehabs, detoxes, and counselors.  I kept asking them one question:  How can I want to want to be better?  

I'm not making this up, I asked that question to every counselor and social worker I met.  I asked it again and again, and no one had an answer.

Today it reminds me of what Jesus said to the man at the well,"Do you want to get well?" (John 5:1-5).

I know the answer to the question I was asking for all those years.  "How can I want to want to get better?"  The answer is: You can't.  You need to get on your knees and beg God for the willingness to want to be better.  But a secular social worker or counselor isn't going to say that.  Their approach is almost always based on the individual pulling themselves up by their own bootstraps.  They instruct the client by having them set goals, and achieve them.  Seems logical enough right?  Maybe so.  In fact that may work for some, but I think for the truly lost, the issue is not as simple as not having the tools.  It's not wanting to use them.  

Yet, why?  The lifestyle of addiction causes so much destruction.  I worked at a Salvation Army homeless shelter for over a year.  I've seen people waste away, step by step, month by month, in and out, in and out.  It's shocking.  And you try to help, but there is nothing you can do.  At the very heart of the human soul is this leaning toward destruction.  It has baffled nurses, AODA counselors, and homeless shelter staff since the birth of such professions.  

I could ask the same question of myself: Why was I like that?  Why was I destroying myself?  Why didn't I care?  

I thought I needed a girl.  I thought I needed the perfect high, maybe.  And eventually when those fixes failed, I stopped wanting anything and just did what I knew.

I was obsessed with the book of Job for many of those years.  I read it in jail more than once.  A book on suffering.  Interesting isn't it?  Oscar Wilde himself, a hedonist felt most closely associated with the book of Job.  Why does pleasure lead to so much suffering?  

The most amazing fact of this story is this: I was right.  I did die in 2012.  I did join Club 27.  I died.  And I was reborn.  

total eclipse CC 1.0 via Wikipedia

Saturday, November 21, 2015

The Judgment Seat of Christ: Heaven, Hell, and standing before the servant King

Source via Flickr "An Eternal Lullaby" by SSG Robert Stewart US Army CC 2.0
Yes, by God’s grace, Jesus tasted death for everyone. 10 God, for whom and through whom everything was made, chose to bring many children into glory. And it was only right that he should make Jesus, through his suffering, a perfect leader, fit to bring them into their salvation.
11 So now Jesus and the ones he makes holy have the same Father. That is why Jesus is not ashamed to call them his brothers and sisters. 12 For he said to God,
“I will proclaim your name to my brothers and sisters.
    I will praise you among your assembled people.”

13 He also said,
“I will put my trust in him,”
    that is, “I and the children God has given me.”

14 Because God’s children are human beings—made of flesh and blood—the Son also became flesh and blood. For only as a human being could he die, and only by dying could he break the power of the devil, who had the power of death. 15 Only in this way could he set free all who have lived their lives as slaves to the fear of dying.
-Hebrews 2:9b-15 NLT

There is a moment in every life when one must provide an answer.  I think we all know it deep down.  We all know that our actions matter.  We can feel it.  We all know that we live in a moral universe.  There is something within every single human being that demands that justice be done.  This moment is feared, minimized, and shunned by some.  For Christians it is the single most important moment we will face.  It is the single moment in history that every Christian is living for, preparing for, restraining themselves for.  It is the judgment seat of Jesus Christ. 

Death is the end for most.  They mourn it and the source of mourning is the ultimate death of all people.  It's an infinite abyss of despair that is never exhausted.  But we Christians understand the world differently.  We believe that death is not the end for the human race.  We believe in something greater.  We believe in a life eternal.  As Christians we are fully aware that this life is not the end all.  We know there is more. 

While we're on Earth our actions matter.  Every thought and every action are important.  This is in vast contradiction to the world, who generally believe that life is nothing, we are here for nothing, and just do whatever feels good.  And as unsustainable that lifestyle is, they continue to do it.  But we do not.  We must not.  We're all living for a moment in the future.

What is this moment?  It's the moment we die.  We die, and yet we live.  We are brought into the direct presence of our savior, the resurrected and glorified Jesus Christ.  

We know this life is but a tiny fraction of our true existence.  This life is only a shadow of what we will once become.  We can't fully comprehend this reality, but it is surely true.  We will become more than we are now, transformed into a new existence.  

The truth is we will be perfected.  Our distance from God will be removed.  We will be transformed.  Our position will be changed from children to honored leaders.  Our character will be transformed from sinners declared perfect in Christ, to glorified perfected sons of God united with Jesus Christ. 

 

We will all stand before the judgment seat of God Romans 14:10b ESV

 

The primary purpose of the cross of Jesus Christ is the victory over death.  And the primary purpose of the judgment seat of Christ is the dividing of the faithful from the wicked. 

 

Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. From his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done. Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire. Revelation 20:11-15 ESV

 

Jesus Christ provides a victory we can hardly fathom, we are so indoctrinated by this broken Earth.  We believe death is normal.  But it's not normal and we know it when it happens to us.  When a family member dies we know deep down that this is wrong and they shouldn't be gone.  Death is a disease and Jesus Christ is the cure.  

 

Are we so knowledgeable?  Are we so wise?  Can we really know the deepest things of God?  Can we really comprehend?  No we can't.  Our ego runs wild.  But we must all admit that we cannot see the fullness of the pictures of life.  The meaning of life to find eternal life in Jesus Christ is a profound mystery.  I can barely understand even the basics of this mystery.  Yet I do know that the meaning of life is that we be reconciled to God the creator of existence.  It makes sense when you break it down to this view point: Every person is fleeing, in the darkness, lost and confused in a wilderness we do not understand.

 

We are living for a day in the future.  The Bible calls it the day of the Lord.  Which means how we live today and everyday matters.  Yet it's so easy to lose sight of that.  It's a battle.  But we must be the conqueror.  

 

Matthew 12:36 (ESV) "I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak."

 

Are you prepared to give an account of your life before God?  Are you really ready?  Will you be found faithful on the last day?

 

When we've trusted in Jesus Christ, we can feel secure in our journey to the judgment seat of Christ.  When we walk daily with God praying and sharing his truth, then we need never fear the judgment seat of Christ.  On that day, we will find love, mercy, friendship, praise, glory, and honor.  We will be warmly welcomed by dad, with a big hug, into the kingdom he has created for the perfection of reality. 


31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. 34 Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? 38 And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? 39 And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ 40 And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers,[f] you did it to me.’
41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ 44 Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ 45 Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ 46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” Matthew 25:31-46

The Last Judgment by John Martin (1854) part of the Public Domain
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Friday, November 20, 2015

Even to your Old Age & Gray Hairs: I am He

Source via Deviant Art CC 3.0
Manuscript from a devotional I gave at the Christian Park Nursing home in Escanaba, to the residents. Given as part of my work with the Salvation Army in Upper Michigan. (November 2015)

Even to your old age and gray hairs I am he, I am he who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you. –Isaiah 46:4

God made all of us.  He is the architect of life.  He has set us forth in this world.  And at the end of our days, God comes to reclaim us.  
Many of us here could ask the question, “What is there left to do? Who are we to turn to in our loneliness?”

We are left with only one name to turn to, the only name, Jesus Christ:  He is real, He is the son of God, and he is good.  He is present here.  He is here right now.  He loves us.  He loves me, a young man.  He loves you, his beloved sheep and children. 

Our Christian faith is not simply a tradition or a story.  Do you believe?  Do you believe that Jesus Christ has saved you?  I believe.  I believe he has saved me, from me.  

Many times in my life I have had many friends, family close by, people who cared for me.  And just as many times I’ve had no one.  And it seemed like no one cared anymore.  I’ve felt terribly alone, in depression, in sorrow, just wasting away within.  Who am I to call to?  Who am I to look to?

In Matthew 11:29 Jesus said “Take my yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”
There is only one who is with us on the good days and bad, who stays with us all the days of our lives until our very last:  his name is Jesus Christ.  He is the son of God, sent by God, to make an offering to us, an offer of eternal life. 

We might’ve received it in the past.  But have we kept up with it?  Have we lived the Christian life?  Or have we fallen away?  Did we choose sin over God?  Did we stop practicing our faith?  Or have we been faithful to this very day?  

As we approach the end of our lives, what can we ask?  I must ask: Am I really in Jesus Christ?  Or has he slipped away from me?  Has he been crowded out by the clamors of the world out there?  Is the volume on the television too high?  Is the radio too loudly blaring?  

Let me tell you the gospel: Jesus Christ, a man, yet also claiming to be the son of God, to be one with God, walked the Earth just over 2,000 years ago.  God became a man.  The Bible calls him Immanuel, which means “God with us.” God with us.  Your God, the God who made you and your race, the human race, came to live within the flesh of a human body.  He lived a life of perfection.  He healed those with injuries.  He spoke the truth without fear.  He shared love and cared for the children.  He never sinned, not even once.  He came for the stated purpose of being offered up as a sacrifice for you and me.  He was slaughtered on the cross to return us to communion with God.  If only we would believe in him, and follow him.  Because it’s true. Jesus Christ died on the cross 2000 years ago, and he was resurrected bodily, and seen by many witnesses to be alive.

We’ve all sinned.  In one way or another we’ve done terrible things.  Which is why we need a savior, we need Jesus Christ.  Do you know what Christ did on the cross?  He took my place.  I should’ve been nailed to that cross.  You, me, in our sins, deserved the cross.  But instead Jesus Christ, God himself, took our place.  Then he died.  And 72 hours later, in the power of the Spirit, he reclaimed his life.  And in so doing he declared victory over death.

Everyone of us need the savior, to take our place, and to give us new life.  Are you born again? 

Jesus said in John 5:24 (ESV) “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.”

One thing is certain, all of us will die.  The question is: Will we be clothed in Christ when we do?  

Psalm 90:10 says,”The years of our life are seventy, or even by reason of strength eighty; yet their span is but toil and trouble; they are soon gone, and we fly away.” 

I would like to invite you to join me in a prayer, in this prayer we will turn our lives over to Jesus Christ.  We will accept him as the Son of God.  We will accept that he died to remove our sins.  We will accept that he rose to life to grant us eternal life.  

Maybe you’ve already done this, but I encourage you to stretch out with your entire being, and express this prayer anew.  Renew your commitment to Christ.  If you’ve never done this before, prepare your heart and mind, and be welcomed into the family of God.

Pray this prayer: Dear and loving Heavenly Father, we cast ourselves before you.  We stretch out in belief.  We stretch out, and cry out to Jesus Christ, Jesus save us!  We repent, we turn from our old ways, we turn all our reliance on you alone God! We cast ourselves upon the work of Christ.  We believe in Jesus, Lord, we believe he lived a real life, that he literally walked the Earth and healed the sick and spoke the truth, Jesus is our way, our truth, and our life.  We receive his sacrifice as the atonement for our sins.  We receive the gift of eternal life, we receive the holy spirit, we are born again.  Thank you Heavenly Father.  We repent of our old ways, we are yours now.  Help us to pursue the new life before us.  In Jesus name, Amen.

The Voyage of Life: Old Age by Thomas Cole, Source
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Monday, November 16, 2015

How to be an Introvert Evangelist

Source via Flickr by
In the church culture of today it seems like the extrovert mentality gets a lot of plugs.  Introverts have a lot to contribute too.  What does it mean to be an introvert?  An introvert is a person who recharges best when alone.  An extrovert is someone who is energized by crowds and people.  

I'm an introvert myself, and I can say from experience that introverts are often treated like something is defective about them.  They're told they need to socialize more and they're shamed for their private attitudes about life.  But the truth is, introverts can be introverts and it's OK to do so.  Christians can be introverts.  

Some Christians have debated what personality type Jesus was while he walked the Earth.  Was he an extrovert or an introvert?  Some insist he was an extrovert, while others point out his visits to places of isolation to show him as an introvert.  It's probably fairly reasonable to conclude that Jesus Christ was the perfect balance of both, firmly down the middle.  

The single most important part of being a Christian, a part of the church, is to carry the message.  The most important directive for Christians is to go to all nations and make disciples.  Is this command out of the reach of introverts?  Of course not.  So here are five ways an introvert can engage the world with the gospel:

1. Listening - One of the most powerful methods of evangelism is listening.  All I do is ask them about God or their religious views.  Then I listen.  I encourage them to share more.  I encourage thought and reflection.  It's a great to just get people thinking.  I share about Jesus.  I share my views.  But I just listen.  Most people need someone to listen. 

2. Prayer - Prayer changes the world and that's a fact.  Believe it.  We are in need of prayer warriors who really believe.  It's a perfect mission for introverts.

3. Literature - Tracts are important and useful. Yes, many really are saved and guided to Christ through tracts.  Even more than tracts though, are Bibles.  I spend a lot of time distributing Bibles.  I like to distribute versions like NIV, ESV, and NLT because they are easy to read.  Remember to purchase some large print bibles because the elderly will struggle with small print bibles. 

4. Social Media - I love social media.  I love sharing my views on social media.  It's perfect for introverts and even better for writers.  Engage on Facebook, Twitter, and other platforms.  Spread your wings on the internet super highway.  Pictures, scriptures, videos and much more.  Ain't technology great?

5. Blogging - Fascinating phenomenon, the blogging world.  Bloggers are like the philosophers who stood in the markets of the ancient world sharing their views.  We can share Jesus in the blogging world.  People love reading blogs.  There are tons of Christian blogs out there, but more are always needed, especially to reach certain people groups that often go unreached.  Are you called to blog for Jesus?

Source 
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Sunday, November 15, 2015

Five Christian Organizations that Get it Right

Image is part of the public domain CC 3.0 via Wikipedia
There are literally hundreds of Christian organizations out there, just within the United States. Many of these organizations routinely ask for donations and support from everyday people like you and me.  It's so hard to know which organizations we should support and which we should not.  I'd like to highlight, very quickly, five organizations that I've had a very positive experience with.  These are Christian ministries and organizations.  But in any situation always research who you give your money to and research how they use it.

1. The Salvation Army - Red kettle season once again is here, and it's a good reminder to support this wonderful organization.  83% of the money given to TSA goes directly to community help programs.  The Salvation Army operates food pantries, social service programs, homeless shelters, community centers (Kroc Centers), emergency disaster services, and drug rehab facilities (ARCs).  The Salvation Army is considered one of the top ten most enduring institutions in human history.  TSA manages to always stay on the cutting edge.  If all Christian denominations make up the church, the body of Christ, the Salvation Army is the frontlines and the unsung heroes of the spiritual war.

2. Liberty University - Started in 1971 by Jerry Falwell, Liberty University is the largest Christian university on Earth.  Liberty serves over 10,000 students on campus and over 80,000 via distance education.  Liberty University provides an education based on the Christian worldview that is unparalleled.  Liberty University manages to stay on the cutting edge of issues, with an impressive social media presence.  The culture in Virginia is Christian, surrounding many Christian universities like Liberty.  It's a major key to the future of Christianity in the west.

3. Living Waters - Ray Comfort's ministry is a spirit filled venture in radical adherence to evangelism.  Living Waters make available many free resources and sermons placed in the public domain to allow for mass production and evangelism.  Ray Comfort's ministry is on the cutting edge of evangelism and cultural engagement.  LW produce many powerful documentaries like Evolution vs. God, Audacity, Noah, and 180.  Get involved in intentional evangelism as soon as you can, the world needs Jesus.

4. Compassion International - Compassion is probably the most well known and renowned for service to children in the 3rd world.  Consider sponsoring a child today. 

5. Abolish Human Abortion - The ministry of Abolish Human Abortion operates much like anti-slavery groups operated in the United States prior to the Civil War.  This organization calls abortion what it is: child sacrifice.  They are a growing movement of "abolitionists" standing to end the awful injustice of abortion.  Please get involved if you can.  

Notable Mention: Alliance Defending Freedom, Liberty Institute, The Heritage Foundation, Thrivent Financial, Persecution.org, RZIM, and the Veritas Forum.

Source CC 2.0 via Flickr by Taber Andrew Bain
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Apologetics Quotes: The Design of the Universe & the Hiddenness of God

Hubble Telescope images used with permission thanks to STScI via Hubblesite.org
1. The Design of the Universe
"We have only to see a few letters of the alphabet spelling our name in the sand to recognize at once the work of an intelligent agent. How much more likely, then is the existence of an intelligent Creator behind human DNA, the colossal biological database that contains no fewer than 3.5 billion "letters" - the longest "word" yet discovered?" –John Lennox, God and Stephen Hawking: Whose Design Is It Anyway?, p. 75.

“Discoveries of the last half of the 20th century have brought the scientific community to the realization that our universe and our planet in the universe are so remarkably unique that it is almost impossible to imagine how this could have happened accidentally, causing many agnostic scientists to concede that indeed some intelligent creative force may be required to account for it.” –Dr. Walter Bradley, Professor, Mechanical Engineering, Texas A & M

“When you analyze all of the most current affirmative evidence from cosmology, physics, astronomy, biology, and so forth...the positive case for an intelligent designer becomes absolutely compelling.” –Jonathan Wells

2. The Hiddenness of God
"Either God exists, or he does not...Let us weigh the gain and the loss in betting that God exists...If you win, you win everything; if you lose, you lose nothing. Do not hesitate then, to gamble on His existence." –Blaise Pascal, French scientist and theologian, quoted in Harold Sala, Why You Can Have Confidence in the Bible, p. 159

"The chief reason people do not know God is not because He hides from them but because they hide from Him." –John Stott

 
“God maintains a delicate balance between keeping his existence sufficiently evident so people will know he's there and yet hiding his presence enough so that people who want to choose to ignore him can do it. This way, their choice of destiny is really free.” –J.P. Moreland


Hubble Telescope images used with permission thanks to STScI via Hubblesite.org

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Sunday, November 8, 2015

Dear Mainstream Media: You don't understand why Ben Carson appeals to voters, allow me to explain

Source CC 2.0 via Flickr by Michael Vadon
Dr. Ben Carson the retired neurosurgeon running for president has fallen under attack by the media in recent weeks.  Dr. Carson recently took the lead in the GOP race for the nomination, now polling just ahead of the previous frontrunner Donald Trump.

During the primaries possible candidates submit their candidacy, attempt to raise money, and campaign to build a following around their bid for the nomination.  Citizens vote in Republican primaries by state to gather delegates which then go to the Republican National Convention to vote on who will be the nominee.  The nominee then runs against the Democratic nominee for the office of the presidency in 2016.

The mainstream media outlets, Fox News included (the only conservative voice on television) have marveled at Dr. Ben Carson's bid.  They keep saying that they can't understand what people find appealing about Dr. Ben Carson.  I would like to take a few minutes to perhaps help the media understand the appeal of Dr. Ben Carson.

Allow me to explain:  Ben Carson is exactly what a president should be.  He inspires people.  He is authentic.  He is thoughtful, cool-headed, and soft spoken.  He is a Christian, not because he claims to be a Christian to get elected, but because he really is a Christian.  He is not a career politician.  In fact none of the greatest presidents of our country were career politicians.  All the best presidents were citizen statesmen.  Here are a few examples: George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, James Madison, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Calvin Coolidge, Ronald Reagan, and Andrew Jackson.  Maybe you've heard of them?  

Dr. Ben Carson is exactly the kind of man needed for the presidency.  He is not flashy, he is not a loud mouth, and he actually means what he says.  He's willing to be frank and real.  He is just another citizen, not a member of the elite.  His positions on key issues are highly appealing: he is pro-life, strongly supports religious liberty, he is conservative on spending, wants to deal with the federal debt, and supports stronger states rights.

To me I see something quite striking.  Before moneyed interests invaded Washington D.C. and co-opted the entire process, it was average men like Ben Carson who could become president.  The perversion of our system of government has led to this demented situation we're in.  We have career politicians on the stage, people like Rubio, Bush, Kasick, and Christie.  Any given election cycle in the past thirty years is establishment candidates fighting over getting the most money from high profile donors.  There is quite often also on stage the evangelical candidate who tends to give a good showing, then soundly loses year after year (Huckabee).  More recently there is now a libertarian presence on stage, like Ron Paul in 2008 and 2012 and Rand Paul in the current cycle.  More recently there is also a Tea Party presence on stage, like Ted Cruz or Scott Walker.  Then there is the phenomenon of the rich independent candidate running against the establishment, epitomized by Donald Trump's run this year.  All of these candidates aside from one represents the creepy descent of our country into greed, corruption, and abuse of power.  All of them except one: Dr. Ben Carson.  

Dr. Ben Carson breaks all the molds.  He's a doctor running for president, without much money, but his grassroots support has exploded.  He is an African-american man running for president, in the GOP, and he is polling first.  That should settle the fact forever that Republicans are NOT racists.  The racist, sexist, bigot card is one played by progressives in attempts to silence honest dissent.  It's crap.  Dr. Ben Carson is the front-runner and that absolutely terrifies progressives.  It makes them angry too, because it shines a big light on their false narrative.  The media is full of progressives.  Recently they have been in full attack mode of Dr. Ben Carson.  They've got to find something to discredit him, but nothing is turning up.  They tried to say he had lied about being offered a scholarship to West Point, but it turns out that assuming you do get into West Point, it is in fact free of charge given your commitment to serve in the military.  And what else would you do when going to a military academy, but serve in the military?  They also tried to jump back to a statement made by Dr. Ben Carson about his views then on the pyramids of ancient Egypt.  No, I'm not making that up.  They actually had to dig that far back to find something.  And does it really matter that he had a different theory about pyramids in Egypt in 1998? Not at all.  It has nothing to do with anything.  It's just an attempt to sling mud at a political rival, the rival of the media, Dr. Ben Carson. 

Why does Dr. Ben Carson terrify the progressive/liberal establishment in the mainstream media?  Mainly because like I said, he breaks every mold.  He's an accomplished physician and surgeon, scientifically minded, yet he believes in God.  Which challenges the false dichotomy so often presented in the media that it has to be religion vs. science.  Or God vs. Science.  Which is nonsense, it's a false choice, one can be scientifically minded and believe in God.  It hurts the false mainstream media narrative in that area.  It also hurts the scientific establishment's evolution dogma.  There has long been a growing dissent against neo-darwinism, and Dr. Ben Carson is a celebrated physician who does not believe in macro-evolution (but like all scientists he does adhere to adaptation/micro-evolution).  That is a direct threat to the establishment in the sciences.  In addition, Dr. Ben Carson is an African-american who lived in poverty during his early years.  In the past thirty years almost all high profile African-americans have sided firmly with the democratic party.  Dr. Ben Carson breaks that mold, and shows that African-americans can and ought to be conservative.  He persuasively argues against the welfare state that keeps people in poverty.  That is a direct threat to progressives and their values.  The media realizes this.  So they target him, and they want to silence him.  But Dr. Carson consistently calls out the press and fights against the orthodoxy of the "pc-police" (politically correct police).

What about the conservative media?  Well, Fox News is looking to prop up their preferred candidates.  Fox News would prefer a Jeb Bush.  It's amazing how Fox keeps trying to prop up Jeb's dead run for the nomination.  They also like Marco Rubio.  Why?  Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio are centrist neo-cons.  They vote liberal, they are flip floppers owned by special interest groups.  Fox news and her affiliates have a vested interest in propping up neocons.  Neocons are fake conservatives who campaign as real conservatives, then when they get in office they support bailouts, spending increases, and bigger central government.  George Bush senior and junior are the most clear examples.  There are many others as well.  

While Fox News has been pretty fair with Ben Carson, they seem to push for the narrative that voters are going to turn back to established politicians in the long run.  I don't think that will be the case.  At least I certainly hope not.  We don't need more status quo politicians, the country is screwed up to high heavens because of career politicians.  We need a Ben Carson or a Ted Cruz or a Rand Paul.  We need someone who can stand up against the establishment in both parties.

But what about Donald Trump?  The media love a guy like Donald Trump.  He epitomizes everything that has become wrong about America.  He is all about the wealth, all about the power, with a loud mouth, and a lot of pomp.  He's an entertainer, a man of the modern television culture.  The media loves that.  The media wants a flashy outspoken candidate who will gather good ratings.  Or they want a loud, outspoken establishment candidate with lots of money and banks donating to them.  That's something they understand.  But what they can't understand is a soft-spoken African-american neurosurgeon.  He's not flashy or in with the rich elite of this country.  But Dr. Ben Carson is a presidential candidate who looks much like presidents from our nation's past; citizen statesmen who sincerely wanted to help their nation.  Dr. Ben Carson is like a candidate from our past, when the ugly future we've entered is one of camera flashes, stacks of money, fame, sexual depravity, establishment power, and a growing oligarchy that controls the banks, business, and politicians.  Dr. Ben Carson is a picture of where we could go, if average everyday Americans would stand in time of need.  Because the nation has been overrun by rats.  The amazing thing is: They are standing.  And something special is taking place.  Could we actually be seeing a return to principles, a return to honor, a return to humility, and a return to hope?  Could the dream of America be realized again, of a place of personal liberty, religious freedom, and moral responsibility?  

Politico recently came out with a full force attack on Dr. Ben Carson, digging years into his past to try and claim he had lied in his autobiography.  It turned out that Politico had twisted some facts, and the Carson camp called out the media for their endless attempts to discredit him.  Politico later made several changes to the controversial article they published, after social media called them out several key facts.

Dr. Ben Carson challenged the media by describing how little scrutiny was given to President Obama's sealed college records.  Dr. Carson rightly pointed out the double standard in the progressive media, and challenged the media to report fairly on both GOP and Democratic party candidates.  The media bias has become increasingly obvious, especially in the current election cycle.  The bias was showcased at the CNBC debate in late October.  People are frustrated with the media and their attempts to force progressive liberal ideals on a generally moderate Christian U.S. population.  

As Dr. Ben Carson has pointed out, the average everyday people of this nation are picking up on the games of the mainstream media.  I would go even further.  People are awakening to the establishment candidates in both parties.  They are awakening to the special interest groups in Washington.  The people are awakening to the bias that exists in our country toward Christian values.  People are awakening to the threats of special interest groups, massive banks, and big corporations.  The people are awakening, they're angry, and that's why Dr. Ben Carson is the frontrunner: He is a man of the people.  

Source via Wikimedia Commons CC 3.0 by Gage Skidmore

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